Long time columnist and local historian Phylis Bowman passed away peacefully April 9, 2012 in Victoria, B.C. where she had been living in an assisted living home since leaving Port Edward in 2000.
Phylis was a well known personality in Prince Rupert, authoring 14 books and numerous columns about the area. She was often the go-to person for verification of names or dates regarding Rupert’s history receiving calls from the Vancouver Sun to CBC. Her authority on the local history was well founded with her parents arriving from Europe in 1905. Her mother, from Prussia went to North Pacific Cannery and then to Port Essington in 1907 then onto Rupert in 1910. Her Dad, an Englishman and carpenter responded to an ad in Vancouver looking for men to clear a town site up north. He arrived in 1907 and built a home on 4th Ave East.
After attending Booth Memorial and King Edward High School, Phylis worked for her father until joining the Canadian Women’s’ Army Corp in 1943. Stationed in Prince Rupert she worked in the motor pool and watched the construction of the highway from Galloway Rapids Bridge to Port Edward, a huge American base. Memories of this era later lead to one of her books “Road, Rail and River”.
She married Sgt. Major Lloyd Bowman in 1945. They had three sons, Larry, Ken and Jeff who commanded her attention until 1960 when she started at the Prince Rupert Daily News. She worked her way up from the office to Women’s Editor in 1961.
When her husband was offered a better position in Victoria, Phylis and her family moved for three years before returning to Rupert in 1966 where she resumed her position as Women’s Editor and then Editor at the Prince Rupert Daily News.
In 1971 when the paper was sold, Phylis went to work for the Tourist Bureau. After hearing complaints from travelers, especially cruise ship passengers, that there was no one on the docks with information or direction on what to see in town Phylis organized the first “meet the passengers”. There was also music and dancing – people really felt welcome. She was at the Bureau until 1977.
During those six years Phylis was working on her own publications with her first book published in 1973 “Muskeg, Rocks and Rain” a term her father used describing Rupert.
From 1978 to 1982 Phylis again returned to the Daily News as Editor overseeing local stories and her weekly columns.
In 1979 Phylis applied to City Council for a $20K grant for the creation of an Archive Society to collect and collate a pictorial history of Prince Rupert as well as anecdotal history, verified historical accounts, then working with her friends Barbra Sheppard and Gladys Blythe founded the Prince Rupert Archive Society.
In 1998 Phylis was the recipient of the Alec Hunter Award which was named after the managing editor of the Prince Rupert Daily News who died while on assignment in 1952. The recipients are chosen by the People of the City for acts of good citizenship.
Phylis and Lloyd moved to Port Edward in 1986 and she went to work in the store at the North Pacific Cannery Museum. While in Port Edward Phylis graciously gave piano lessons to numerous young students.
Phylis’ health began to suffer in the early 1990s owing to arthritis and diabetes. Husband Lloyd passed away in 1999 and by then Phylis was wheelchair bound making it difficult to maneuver in a two storey house.
Having two sons in Victoria who arranged her accommodation she moved there in 2000. She remained in good health until her wonderful, bear-trap memory began to fail.
Son Larry (65) recalls “you know, Mom learned Dick Ayers, (old time Editor of the Daily News 1950’s) that in those days local news sold newspapers. Mom was a stickler for spelling, and if you took a picture get the names, and spell their names correctly, and if it’s a group picture make sure from left to right they are identified correctly, always take two pictures, someone surely blinked on the first one; and the date – so many people sent her pictures with a note on the back – ‘took this when I was in Rupert’, with no date the photo was useless”.
When asked what she considered her greatest accomplishment, Phylis replied her accurate and in-depth chronicling of Prince Rupert’s effort to support WWII. She felt Rupert should be recognized fro its wartime contributions.
Son Larry recalls – Mom used to have a little joke – “With a mayor in Rupert from New York (Pete Lester) and a mayor in Port Edward from Pennsylvania (Ed Wampler) the Americans never really left”.
But, had the Americans not given Rupert the boost they did during WWII Rupert would have slipped into anonymity, “A Port that never was”.
Phylis is survived by her sons: Larry (Violette) of Port Edward BC, Ken, Jeff (Holly), grandchildren Kerry, Christopher, Coral, Joel, Jarrad, Matthew of Victoria BC.
As Phylis was heard to say – “It’s going to clear up, wet, dull and foggy – You gotta love this country”!
Phylis will be laid to rest later this year at Fairview Cemetery with her family in attendance.